ZERO DEGREES OF SEPARATION

“For whoever keeps the whole Law, yet stumbles in one point, has become guilty of all” (James 2:10).

Human tendency is to differentiate between particular sins; assigning to each a varying degree of severity. Nowhere is this more evident than in our thinking that someone has a “powerful” testimony if they have had a more reprehensible past. A biblical understanding of sin, however, recognizes that the grace of God required to save the most wicked is the same grace needed to save the most respectable. There is no greater or lesser in the eyes of God; sin is sin.

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A FITTING DEMONSTRATION

“Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost sinner Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).

Paul offers himself as Exhibit A of how a person’s past does not limit the work of God. That Paul was the worst thing imaginable—a blasphemer and persecutor who sought to destroy the church—reveals that the salvation God has accomplished in Christ Jesus is never about our “badness,” but God’s graciousness. Your past isn’t the centerpiece of the salvation story; it is but a demonstration of God’s goodness.

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OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

“So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects” (Acts 17:22).

For the greater part of American history, church and culture benefitted from a symbiotic relationship. They were the strangest of bedfellows…no one really caring what the church preached as long as it was “Americanized.” Thus, the church was an accepted institutional presence; we were “insiders.” Our steeples beckoned the masses to come…and they did. Unfortunately, the result was we became keepers of the aquarium. Today, such is no longer the case, and we, like the Apostle Paul before the Athenians, are on the outside looking in. We have become a counter-cultural presence; pushed to the margins; voices crying in the wilderness.  Finally, we must once again become fishers of men.

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STORIED HANDS 

“Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:16).

Each of us bear in our hands reminders of life events that make up our story. On my right hand is the scar from a childhood dog bite, while on my left is the seemingly permanent swelling of a broken finger. The hand of God is an often used metaphor in describing the creative work of God; his provision, and power. That we are inscribed on God’s palms is a comforting reminder that we are ever before him as he is accomplishing his purposes.

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A GRACE-FILLED FUTURE

“…even though I was previously a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Timothy 1:13).

The grace of God confirms his greatest concern for you as a believer isn’t who you once were, or what you once did but, rather, who you are now in Christ Jesus and what you are becoming within the redemptive purposes of God. Choosing to continually live under the shadow and shame of one’s former life is but another expression of unbelief; that salvation is something to be deserved, merited, or earned. Belief in what He has accomplished in and through the person of Christ, alone, initiates the mercy and grace of God necessary for a new birth and eternal life.

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CHRISTMAS IS COMING

“Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is righteous and endowed with salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

Each year it seems retailers are promoting the Christmas shopping season at an earlier date. Between all the wreaths, garland, bells, stockings, and sentimental commercials enticing us to buy, and buy more, the words of the prophet are a timely reminder that what God has sent forth in Christ Jesus cannot be acquired, purchased, wrapped, and given; only received. Regardless of how much we pretend they can, the things of God cannot be found in the secular things that crowd our lives and thinking. The message of his salvation cannot be charged to a credit card or contained in an ornately decorated boxes. As it has been humbly given, it can only be humbly received.

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THE GOSPEL WILLFULLY ENACTED

“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (Romans 6:17).

The gospel isn’t something to just be experienced emotionally or understood intellectually. That heart and mind are in the right place is proved out by the willful enactment of what we know and claim to have experienced. The will to obey in the life of faith is accomplished when the mind is convinced, capturing the heart, and a transformed life resulting.

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MIND GUIDES THE HEART

“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (Romans 6:17).

This passage refutes the notion of cultural Christianity that to reach people with the gospel, you must first capture their heart. Not according to Paul, who gives first emphasis to a cognitive understanding of a particular form of teaching. A faith that is first understood, will emotively connect the heart for action. There are a great many false religions, and heretical teachings, that evoke emotional expression. Thus, the litmus test of a legitimate faith experience, or the Spirit’s presence, isn’t an emotional “feeling” but, rather, a life of obedient fruit-bearing.

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MIND, HEART, AND WILL

“But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (Romans 6:17).

To truly appreciate the willful obedience accomplished in the life of these Roman disciples, Paul notes that it must begin not with the heart, but the intellect. The form of teaching they embraced was a standardized body of teachings, taught by the apostles themselves, and would be passed on from generation to generation. Only by comprehending rightly the implications of the gospel can the heart be compelled to follow. In deciding whether or not to be one of his disciples, Jesus said you must count the cost (Lk. 14:28). It’s a mental exercise of weighing things out; determining the sacrifices necessary to follow Him.

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FAITH’S IMPACT

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

The understanding of faith is vital and essential. Some would define faith as an intellectual affirmation of doctrinal assertions believed to be true; something akin to believing certain personalities existed in history; an acknowledgement of  things past. A saving faith, however, is a transformational belief in Christ that extends beyond historical assent, to an unwavering conviction regarding the life that is to be pursued; uncompromising to the emotion of the moment and unaccommodating to the shifting values of culture.

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